What is a French Catholic priest doing uncovering mass graves from the shootings of Jews, gypsies and others in Ukraine in the years 1941-1944?

It’s a question which Father Patrick Desbois asks at the opening of the exhibition “Shoah by Bullets: Mass Shootings of Jews in Ukraine 1941-1944” at the Ukrainian House in the centre of Kyiv on 8 September.  The answer, Father Desbois says, is that his grandfather was deported in 1942 to a camp in what is now western Ukraine near Lviv.  His grandfather told him that, while conditions in the camp were awful, those outside were far worse.

 Now Father Desbois leads an organisation working closely with Jewish counterparts which makes twelve visits a year to Ukraine, going from village to village asking people whether they saw mass shootings and, if so, what they saw.  The result has been the uncovering of mass graves of more than one million Jews and 48 extermination sites for gypsies on Ukrainian territory.

At the opening ceremony, Father Desbois and Eric de Rothschild, President of Memorial de la Shoah, underline that their work is not about pointing fingers but about helping to ensure, through education and testimony that this can never happen again.  It is about putting a name, a face and a life to individual victims.  It is about teaching people, including through schools projects in Ukraine, not to run with the crowd when the crowd is doing the wrong thing.  It is, as Stephen Smith of the Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education says, an opportunity not to think about death but to think about life.
The exhibition is on at the House of Ukraine, on European Square in centre of Kyiv from 8 September to 3 October.

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